Even in normal times, parents complain about their children’s’ online gaming habits. They wonder why kids need to be online from the moment they return from school to all hours of the day, and why they do not prefer to spend in-person time with their peers or go outside rather than staying inside. At present, conflicts about being online may heighten as academics is being presented online. In some instances, parents struggle with children who prefer to be online rather than doing their school work, resulting in diminishing grades and performance. Yet, video gaming has become a primary pastime for children, adolescents, and even many adults, surpassing more traditional pursuits like television. Moreover, the kinds of questions noted above may reflect a lack of understanding of the importance and value of the virtual world for their children. How can parents gain and utilize this understanding while at the same time addressing their concerns about the effects of video gaming on their child and their family?
First, it will be important to gain a good understanding of the psychological and social value of gaming for kids. The kinds of games, and, even more importantly, the kind of characters with which kids identify can go a long way to understanding how the gaming is satisfying their underlying needs. Through the games, kids can engage in fantasy that allows them to do things they would ordinarily not do or be someone they would ordinarily not be. Children with social anxiety or depression can be different online. Difficult situations like confrontation can be more safely addressed online through fantasy solutions. The key here is taking this information and generalizing it to the real world. This is akin to what happens in play therapy where children can “play out” their issues and find solutions to them. In play therapy, the therapist is there as a guide. In the video gaming world, once parents gain an understanding of what the characters and emotions involved in the gaming are providing for their child, they, too, can serve as a guide. Implicit in all of the above is the strategy of joining with their child through showing a genuine interest in what is important to them, engaging them around it by having them share about the games they choose, the important characters, the characters successes or failures, etc. In this way, the experience of gaming can be collaborative instead of confrontational. Children can then feel understood and that parents care about what is important to them. Now, more than ever, the gaming experience provides a social outlet for kids and it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
This in no way means that gaming schedules (or the lack thereof) that upset the balance of family life cannot be similarly discussed. However, the most constructive way to engage in these types of discussions is to use consultation strategies with children. That is, consulting with kids gives the same collaborative, joining experience rather than interrogation methods. Inviting kids to give their opinions even when we disagree provides a forum for discussion. Consulting does not “give away” parental authority. It just gives parents a better way to exercise their authority. Allowing kids to explain their points of view can help to understand them better, gives them a permission to express their objections, and allows you to discuss those objections. Agreeing to disagree in the open is better than having resentments fester, a situation that fosters bad feelings and acting out.